A tireless campaigner and advocate for people with disabilities, Jonathan is nothing short of inspirational. Unable to speak, Jonathan communicates via a spelling board attached to a piece of perspex, with his communication partner reading his gaze to each letter.
A tireless campaigner and advocate for people with disabilities, Jonathan is nothing short of inspirational. Unable to speak, Jonathan communicates via a spelling board attached to a piece of perspex, with his communication partner reading his gaze to each letter. Jonathan believes passionately that everyone should have the opportunity to learn literacy, regardless of their condition and has worked tirelessly to change the way students with complex disabilities are educated.
What do you do with challenge?
During the last few years we have all experienced our answer to this question. For one section of society, dealing with challenges is inherent within the world we live in. Those of us with a disability are used to being disabled by the societies we live in; disabled by the assumptions people make, disabled by the access both physically and to services, disabled by the attitudes of people making decisions.
Today is International Day of People with Disabilities. This year, the day recognises that for disabled people COVID has made difficult situations worse, and the theme is ‘fighting for rights in a post-COVID era’. As services and resources have been squeezed, it is often disabled people who have found themselves left behind. Often, out of sight and out of mind.
For years I have been campaigning for all children to be taught to read and write regardless of their educational label, through the charity I set up: Teach Us Too. The right to education is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, for the most disabled children in our country, there is a lack of literacy instruction or the belief that progress is possible. Every child has had disrupted learning this year, but for some disabled children learning has been limited by extremely low expectations all their lives. This was my story at special school, and if I hadn’t been removed to be taught to read and write at home I wouldn’t be able to write this blog post. I also wouldn’t be able to communicate, because like most children in the severely disabled category I am non-verbal. Using my eyes, I spell out everything I want to write and say on an alphabet board held in front of me. For children and young people like me, literacy is not just a life skill, it unlocks our voices. Until all children are taught literacy, I will campaign for them.
This year, International Day of People with Disabilities is celebrating the challenges, barriers and opportunities for people who live with disabilities, in the context of a global pandemic. Finding creative ways around challenges is a strength of our community; disabled people have been forced to do it all their lives. But, the experience of successive lockdowns and restrictions has made everyone think out of the box; finding creative solutions to carry on doing the important things in life. Virtual friend and family meet ups, concerts, lectures, and religious services all carried on within the online environment. We have proved that when we value something we can make it happen. As society is re-created in a post-COVID era, let’s all think ‘out of the box’ and find creative ways to include all people.
So, how do we apply this principle to the inclusion of disabled people in society?
1. Recognise that society is not equal, and in particular that the effects of COVID have been felt the most by people with disabilities.
2. Respect the views and experiences of people with disabilities. Talk to us and listen to our perspectives. Nothing should be decided about us without us.
3. Re-invent an inclusive and accessible society where disabled people are equally valued, holding visible positions of responsibility.
This all starts with a mindset as demonstrated in my poem below: